Out of Range is the fifth full-length record by the Los Angeles-based Gun Outfit. They refer to the sound of their music as “Western expanse,” and that’s as good a description as any. Musically it’s a guitar-laden melange of cosmic Americana, psychedelia and desert airiness, recognizable to fans of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Meat Puppets, Giant Sand and the like. It’s led by the twin guitars of Dylan Sharp and Carrie Keith, whose repertoire here ranges from twangy slides to fuzzed-out acid grunge to chiming Byrdsian fingerpicking.
I love it. I’m not sure what’s going on more than half the time, but I love it.
Both Sharp and Keith share the vocal duties, too, though the lyrics are frequently overridden by all that guitar noise. Both have understated singing styles, Sharp’s laconic and half-spoken, Keith’s more pointed but still laid back and often laden with reverb. That adds to the mystery of the lyrics, which on Out of Range seem to lean heavily on philosophic and symbolic topics, with lots of nods toward the Classics.
For the most part, I don’t have much of an idea what these songs are about, without some help from the album’s publicity materials. And I’m usually very much into the lyrics, but with music this spacey, I’m content to parse them out as I go. I mean, I’m not sure what Carrie Keith is singing in “Sally Rose” beyond “I wanna lay my world on you,” but who cares, with a desert-garage jam this infectious:
And who can resist a song with a title like the opening track “Ontological Intercourse”? — which translates as a discussion on the meaning of being. Turns out the bulk of the lyrics are a treatise on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. But there are plenty of lines that stand on their own as existential ponderings on the modern world, like this one, drawled out by Sharp: “I saw my reflection and stopped, amazed, who have I become? I am so young. I know nothing of this world that I’m coming from. At least now I know how … to return.” This in a song that’s equal parts space jam and street-corner doo-wop, complete with Sharp’s baritone “doo-doo-doo”s during one of the choruses.
What other depths are there to plumb here? “Landscape Painter” is about the Flemish Renaissance painter Breugel the Elder, famous for his scenes crowded with peasants acting out cliches and figures of speech. “Cybele” toys with the idea of starting a religious cult, prompted by finding a statue of the titular Greek-Roman mother goddess; all set to a languid slide guitar, of course. There’s more of that, some kind of lap steel perhaps, on the very country-sounding ballad “Slow Realization.” There’s some swampy-sounding fiddle behind Keith’s vocals on the heartbreaking country shuffle “Background Deal.”
The whole thing wraps up with a song called “Second Decade,” a folksy rumination on the band’s 10 years together.
“And we are trying to figure out our parts,” Sharp sings. “They used to be surprising, but now we know them all by heart.” The chorus is arresting, with Keith lending far-away harmonies: “Oh my, Caroline, can you believe how long it takes to learn to say goodbye? “Ten years attention, trying to hold on, you were akin to Winnie, and I was doing Estragon,” he sings. A little digging reveals that he’s comparing the two of them to characters in different Samuel Beckett plays, she as the tragi-comic Winnie from “Happy Days” and he as Estragon from “Waiting For Godot.”
I guess all those years of rolling across the landscape give you plenty of time to ponder esoteric matters. Pardon me, I need to find a desert to drive around in as I further ponder Out of Range.
(Paradise of Bachelors, 2017)